By the time 2012 came around the Assassin’s Creed series had been around for five years, and had become one of the more successful games of its generation. Whilst the first game in the series may have struggled to win over the masses, its second became a huge hit, and secured the series on top of charts. And whilst 2012’s release was titled Assassin’s Creed III, it was actually the fifth game in the franchise. So, five games in, in just five years, what did Assassin’s Creed III have to offer to stand out from the others?
After three games following the character of Ezio Auditore and his adventures in Renaissance Italy, whatever came next would need to do something different to stand out (fighting a magically powered Pope in Vatican City was a pretty hard act to follow to be fair). Shifting the story forward a few centuries, the segments set in the past jumped from 15th Century Europe to 18th Century North America, where players would be introduced to a family that would go on to play an important part in a number of games in the series.
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Beginning in 1754, the game opens by not having you take control of an Assassin, but instead, you play as a Templar agent, Haytham Kenway (Adrian Hough). Initially set up to make you believe that you’re playing as an Assassin, this early game twist proved to be a great way to get players invested, as they realised that they were in fact playing as one of the villains. Haytham travels to the American Colonies in search of powerful artefacts from the first civilisation, and there he fathers a child with a Mohawk woman. This leads to the introduction of the game’s true protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton (Noah Watts), also known as Connor.
The game follows Ratonhnhaké:ton over decades, as he grows into adulthood, as he is given the task of guarding a powerful first civilisation temple from outside forces. As the Revolutionary war begins to sweep its way through the young nation, Ratonhnhaké:ton finds himself being drawn into the conflict as he tries to prevent the Templars from gaining a foothold. Over the course of the game, the player encounters figures from history such as George Washington (Robin Atkin Downes), and becomes involved in the secret history around the birth of the United States.
One of the biggest changes from the previous games coming into Assassin’s Creed III is the setting. Not just the fact that it’s moved to a new continent, but that it’s moved to a relatively untouched one. In the first game players got to experience climbing ancient structures in the Holy Land, buildings that had stood for centuries. And in the Ezio games you could visit places such as Venice, Florence, and Rome, climbing atop structures as old as the Roman Empire. But in this new game players were dropped into new cities. Ancient structures and famous landmarks made way for new colonies that, for the most part, would change drastically over the coming centuries.
But whilst some of the man-made locations felt smaller, the game itself went a lot bigger, with huge areas to explore. Much of the game takes place out in the frontier, away from the settlements and humans, as you take Ratonhnhaké:ton out into the wilds. You’re able to hunt animals whilst out there, as well as exploring the natural beauty of the mostly untouched America. The ability to climb trees and leap from branch to branch, free-running in the wild, makes for some wonderfully fun moments too.
Not just content with adding huge new areas of natural beauty to explore, the game also introduced a feature that would become a huge part of the franchise: naval warfare. Ratonhnhaké:ton could take control of a ship and head out onto the ocean, fighting other ships. This feature would become a focus for the next game in the series, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, where the player would take on the role of Ratonhnhaké:ton’s grandfather, a pirate Assassin on the high seas.
Upon its release the game was praised by critics, who found that the new additions to the series made the game stand out, and that the more complex story and drastic change in setting made it feel different from the previous three entries, all of which focused on Ezio. And whilst the game did well with critics, some fans voiced some dissatisfaction with it, possibly because it was so different from what came before.
The change in protagonist, and several new game-play changes were criticised as not being as good as hoped. Whilst it had these mixed reviews from gamers at the time, criticism of Assassin’s Creed III has lessened over the years. Thanks to re-releases and remasters, the game seems to have found a happier audience; one that can see the good in the things it tried to do, and how it influenced the series going forward.
With some big changes in setting, story, and characters, Assassin’s Creed III in some ways felt like something of a gamble for Ubisoft, but thanks to some great innovations it managed to become a stand-out entry in the series; one that’s still finding a lot of love a decade on.
Assassin’s Creed III was released in the UK on 31st October 2012.